Friday, 7 March 2014

Column 1, 2014 - The McCullum column

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 73, Friday March 7, 2014. [Full text below]

I’ve been lucky enough to be in New Zealand for the last month. (Yeah, it was amazing, thanks. You should SO go. You’d love it.)

When the trip was first mooted, over a year ago, India had a three Test tour of NZ scheduled for February, and it looked like I’d get to the Basin Reserve. I’ve always wanted to go there. It’s a proper old school Test ground, with those grassy banks purpose built for indolent lounging.

But by the end of last summer The ODI junkies at the BCCI had swapped the third Test for a few more one-dayers, and the new schedule meant we’d be down in the South Island by the time the Test got to ‘Welly’.

So India’s insatiable ODI habit denied me my foreign Test fix before I’d set foot in NZ.

I’m not bitter, but the Wellington Test the BCCI made me miss was one of the greats of the modern age, breaking record after record and churning out an endless stream of stats. ‘The highest sixth wicket partnership in Test history’ is probably the pick of the records, and my favourite of the stats is Ishant Sharma recording his career best figures of 6-51 and his worst of 0-164 in the same match.

And, like all great matches, even as the geeks salivated over the stats, they all agreed they did not tell the whole story. Because the story was Brendan McCullum.

McCullum is a likeable cricketer. An unorthodox, attacking captain, his media persona is excessively polite and softly spoken, but he looks like a tattooed working class hardman whose pint you would go out of your way not to spill. He usually bats with the casual backstreet brutality his looks suggest, but not this time. This time he batted with the measured, thoughtful determination his voice suggests.

I was 500 miles south of Wellington in a café in Te Anau when, visibly exhausted but still running threes, with an injured back, knee and shoulder, after two days and ten minutes at the crease, he became the 24th player – and the very first Kiwi – to bring up a Test triple century. There was an extended Indian family watching it on the TV in the café, shaking their heads with the wearied resignation of England fans watching Amla.

He had come in to bat with his side three down and 200 behind. Now they were 400 ahead, and offering a defiantly raised mid-digit to the misguided notion of a two-tiered Test system.

Cricket in New Zealand plays a distant second fiddle to the national obsession of rugby, (even the Basin Reserve is on Rugby Street) much as it does to football in England. So it was great to see McCullum and his team dominating both front and back pages of the NZ press for all the right reasons the following day, under chest-thumping headlines like CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.

As it so often does from such epic draws, cricket emerged victorious.

- ends 496 words -

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